Just back from tutoring in Nottingham on the LTA Senior Performance Coach Course. 3 good days with the course candidates - plenty of debate, discussion, learning and challenge for us all.Been a few days since the last post so a few thoughts.... With modern technology (balls, rackets, court surfaces), the increased physical fitness of the competitive player, and the advances in biomechanics, tennis has moved on incredibly in terms of power generation, but is it truly a power sport? The case is strong, but perhaps consistency, accuracy and precision are still the more dominant factors. Shot-put is a 'power' sport - you only have to get it right once to win Olympic Gold, whereas in tennis you've got to get it right over and over again with great precision, timing and accuracy. In this sense, it is truly a game of black and white - either the ball is in or out, either you are 'in' position to execute effectively or you're not. Power only becomes relevant within the boundaries of consistency and accuracy. So what are the implications for us as coaches working with young players? Do players develop power first and then add the necessary control or the other way round? Perhaps it doesn't matter which side of the argument you fall, but ultimately to understand the relationship between power and accuracy/control to help produce a consistent result shot after shot is vitally important. The ability to perceive the flight of the incoming ball, prepare body, feet and racket accordingly, time the contact point and manage the racket face to perfection creates a hugely demanding feat of co-ordination and precision. Yet our game is also full of gray areas, and these tend to be around the 'decision' making process. Whilst receiving the oncoming ball, a player has to choose the correct shot from a number of different options based around his/her court position, strengths/weaknesses, the quality of the oncoming ball, and the position of the opponent and his/her strengths weaknesses. And these decisions need to be made again and again and again with different variables thrown in at any given time - scoreboard pressure, nerves, etc, etc. Prepared to commit to fight for every ball? You need to be!
Observation and analysis are two words that often get thrown together to mean one, or with a stroke in-between to say they might be a bit different but no-one really knows the difference! A bit like vision/mission, aims/objectives, strategy/tactics and any others you care to come up with!I like this simple definition. Observation is the 'what' you see/record. For example, Kathrin Woerle (Germany and pictured below) against Victoria Azarenka in their first round Aussie Open encounter had a winning first serve percentage of 41% (11/27). Fact. The analysis is the 'why' which of course can be far more open to debate. Anything from attitude, injury, poor technique, great returning from Azarenka could be reasons why. Coaches and players alike need to be keen observers. But observing is not enough - becoming excellent analysts is vital, both to on-court mid-correction and post-match analysis and improvement. Might be an idea to practice that this week. What do you see happening? Can you be specific and measure this? Then ask yourself why it's happening and see where your analysis takes you, because it's only in the analysis that we can actually begin to seek solutions to getting better.
Many centuries ago, an inspired man wrote that one who guides a plow does not look back, or by inference, into the immense distance - but to the next step that must be taken. Pretty wise words I think. We all can look back to past results or behaviour and feel disappointed. We can also look too far ahead and feel overwhelmed. But if we just look towards the next step that has to be taken and break things down into manageable chunks we can actually see, feel and measure progress, making the biggest of challenges achievable.That's part of the 'everyball' ethos - the ability to focus on the next ball, not the one before or the one after, but the one in front of you RIGHT now. As a kid growing up in Kenya I remember heading back to boarding school after the holidays. During some rather emotional good-byes, my Dad would often say, 'Mike, keep your eye on the ball'. It was his way of saying, 'one day at a time son, stay focused, don't look back nor too far forward but just on the ball that's in your court.' Have a great week.
With best wishes to each other for a New Year, it's that time when we turn our thinking towards 2011 with hope and anticipation - resolutions, new commitments and goals, health and happiness. It would be worth noting, however, that the 'abundant' life we hope and wish for will not be characterized by the absence of adversity. Abundant life is in fact growth in the midst of adversity, and what better tool do we have in life to help teach us this but sport.We only need to look at the current plight of the Australian Cricket team to demonstrate this, and through the pain and adversity they are currently in will no doubt spring the green shoots of growth and recovery. That's why we love to identify with the ground level struggle of fighting for every ball - it's through that struggle and our mistakes that we learn. I got a text message last night from one of my players that read: 'Hey Mike - I won that match 3-6 7-7 (5) 10-8. Felt so ill for the whole match it was crazy. Played mediocre.' There's a good example of a little adversity and clearly a great response to it. So as you think about the New Year, don't only look towards what you might be blessed with, but also what you are going to be challenged by and how you are going to grow as a result.